Meet Billy Joel’s Soundman/Family Member Of 48 Years: Brian Ruggles


The Piano Man and The Sound Man: Billy Joel (left) with Brian Ruggles in their natural habitat.
“I just want to wish him a very happy and healthy birthday. And say thank you for this beautiful ride we’ve been on. It’s had its ups and downs but it’s mostly ups. It’s been so inspiring and it’s a love of my life. I’m overwhelmed by the success he’s had and taking me along with him. It’s really incredible.” 
If it sounds like Brian Ruggles is addressing a family member, it’s because he is. Working as Billy Joel’s soundman for nearly half a century is longer than most marriages last. And being on Joel’s team engenders a certain loyalty and intimacy not found on every tour.  
“Billy’s got a family at home. And then he’s got his road family,” Ruggles explains. “When he has good people around him, he keeps them and they become his road family. The road family is very important to him. At this point in his career, he loves everybody that’s surrounding him for sure. The production manager all the way down to the roadies, the sound engineers, the lighting designer Steve Cohen. It’s just become one big family and he just loves it. It’s his life.” 
Ruggles, who makes sure the band’s rendition of “Nessun Dorma” as well as Joel’s spontaneous Zeppelin riffs, sound pristine, first met Billy in the late-60s when they were teenagers, “He was playing with the Hassles.” 
I was 16 and he was three-years older than me. The lead singer John Dizek was going out with this friend’s sister. They used to play this place called My House in Plainview, New York. I went there to see them and it was really good.” 
After connecting and seeing Joel’s subsequent band Attila, the two fell out of touch until one day when he was driving on Long Island, as one does there.  “One day I went to the beach in Oyster Bay and he was just sitting there on log,” Ruggles recalls. “I said, ‘Hey, Billy” and pulled over. He said, “Hey, Brian. How you been?” I said, “What are you up to these days?” He goes, “Oh, I’m putting together my solo album.” I said, “Really? That’s cool.” He goes, “Yeah, you want to come over and listen to some stuff?” So, we went to his apartment, which was just around the block and he played me stuff that wasn’t recorded yet and we started hanging out again. We’d sit around and play different songs and harmonize and play whatever songs were popular.
Then it was time for him to go for real into the studio and then on the road. He says, “Hey, would you like to go on the road with me?” I said, “Yeah, why not.”  I was just going to go to school for graphic arts. I said, “Well, I’m still young. I can take a left turn for a minute and try it out.’
He liked the fact that I had really good ears, pitch and timing. So we went on the road. At the beginning, we just played like little clubs and weren’t making any money. I was begging for money to get a pack of cigarettes, that kind of deal. But things got better and better. He a stopped for a while because he had that issue with the record company and was playing at the Executive Room out in the Valley in L.A. We hooked up again and he said, “Let’s go on the road” I think he was recording at that time Piano Man. So I said, “Sure, why not.” Then we toured in clubs and theaters and all kinds of different places. It got better and better and then we finally made a little money, very little money. Then it just increased from there. And that’s how it began.”